Monday, 15 April 2013
So here we are at the beginning of May 1971, collecting the first price lists from Clarks printing works in Magdalene Street, inscribed with the newly registered Business Name of “Glastonbury Prints”, based at 88 High Street and showing the price of three cartoon posters at 50p each including purchase tax. Bernard was supplied with a set of samples and on 7 May I sold a dozen posters to Pat Li Shun, value £6. By the end of the month I had made 20 entries in the ledger. Some of those first customers were still on our books eight years later.
I even ventured on the road, visiting Tridias, a very illustrious toy shop in Bath. Struggling with an enormous portfolio, I introduced myself. “My husband has drawn these posters which will appeal to children right up to teenagers,” I confidently asserted. The owner of the shop was doubtful and his assistant even less enthusiastic. “I would consider any of the teenagers in my family who professed such taste to be mentally deficient,” she said firmly. However, I must have persuaded them to take one of each, because I have a piece of headed paper accompanying a cheque for £1.50 on which is scribbled the words “They sold, dammit – could we have some more.” (copy)
Bernard had been in the gift trade for some years, having arrived there by means of fudge. My mother made it and Bernard sold it – to the Army & Navy Stores, Fortnum & Mason and Eton College Tuckshop, as well as gift shops across the west country. Mum made one hundred weight of fudge on her kitchen stove in the last three weeks before Christmas, a year or so before this story begins, and our children nicknamed her “Fudge Grannie”. This was long before Health & Safety Regulations and fudge shops. By now Bernard had several agencies, including The Russian Shop and some high class cookware called Copco, as well as representing Taunton Vale Industries which produced chopping boards and other items (some decorated with designs by Pat Leyshon). I have one of their very early chopping boards. The gift trade consisted of many small businesses (usually husband-and-wife partnerships in fact), involved with manufacturing or with managing retail outlets. The manufacturers employed selling agents on a commission basis, where the UK was divided up into a number of areas, each covered by a different agent who carried perhaps six or eight companies’ products. Besides visiting the shops on a more or less regular basis – less often as the price of petrol became prohibitive – the agents usually helped to man their principal’s stands at various trade shows during the year, when retailers put in their main orders and hunted for new lines to stock. Companies with a turnover of £1M or more however – Dartington Glass and Royal Worcester, for example – could afford full time representation, while the larger retailers and department stores employed professional buyers.
A diary entry for Wednesday May 5 1970 records what was probably our first visit to the accountant recommended by Bernard, Mr Sayers of Herbert Parnell & Co, Woking, who gave us advice about keeping records of sales. The first proper ledger is dated from May 1971, in the front of which is a foolscap sheet of detailed instructions from him “on the operation of an analysed cash book”. Bernard also introduced us to agents in the gift trade – Phil and Dave, who covered the West Country, and the redoubtable Mona Russell from Harrogate. John was packing up the odd order in our garage by this time, while I must have been writing out the invoices by hand.
John went on to design a series of black and white silhouettes. We had been invited to see a collection of Victorian silhouettes by Mrs Cotton, a venerable member of West Pennard WI. They were farmers and John remembers Mr. Cotton’s workworn fingers tenderly holding these delicate pictures. He was also impressed by the oval mounts and later commissioned a local engineering firm to produce a metal “forma” which he used to cut the apertures. This continued for several years until we invested in suitable mount cutting machinery.
Later that summer, through Pat’s generosity, we were introduced to the Jessups of Taunton Vale Industries and John was commissioned to design a set of roses for their tablemats, to be produced in black and white. This led him to consider designing pictures for Glastonbury Prints in addition to the posters. He drew five roses, four birds and one butterfly, references 1-10 in a range which finally contained nearly 600 images – the four birds continued to be the best selling pictures right up to the end.
“My customers would preferred the pictures to be coloured,” reported Bernard. It so happened that I had just taken on a cleaning lady called Rose. “Would you like to do some painting for me?” asked John. So she spent the morning in the upstairs sitting room, learning how to colour the roses under John’s careful tuition, while I had to wash the kitchen floor and vaccum the bedrooms. And this is how it all started.
To begin with, all John’s designs were drawn with the pen and printed in black and white; colour printing in those days was very expensive for short runs. And we knew nothing about picture framing – a craft at that time restricted to a few specialists in big towns offering a bespoke framing service, while a handful of larger framers supplied the galleries on a contract basis. Somehow we were put in touch with a gentleman called Bill Williams, who was an agent for a moulding manufacturer and for Whitehouse, Willetts & Bennion Ltd., Worcester, makers of photographic frames.
The trip to Worcester to collect the ready made frames became a regular run as business built up. This was my job, in my Ford Escort Estate, taking the best part of a day, as the southern leg of the M6 was still being built and the Avon Bridge was not opened until 1975. Through Wells, over the Mendips on the Old Bristol Road past Chew Valley Lake, down the steep hill from Dundry with magnificent views over the city, across the river and under Clifton Suspension Bridge along the A4 to join the motorway somewhere near Shirehampton – no falling rocks along this route in those days! Soon I could see the stilts carrying the road across the River Severn, and thence north through beautiful dying elm country, a foretaste of the devastation which Somerset was to suffer a year or two later.